The founder and lead vocalist of the Mighty Clouds of Joy, Joe Ligon (born Willie Joe Ligon) helped bring gospel music up to modern standards. Under Ligon's leadership, the Mighty Clouds of Joy changed the standard gospel lineup from a vocal quartet backed by a sole electric guitar to a full-fledged, R&B-influenced group complete with bass, drums, and keyboards. The resulting sound turned the Mighty Clouds of Joy into the most commercially successful gospel group. Their song "Time" reached the top of the R&B charts in 1974, while their tune "Ride the Mighty High" became a major disco hit. Nominated for numerous Grammy awards, most recently for their 1993 album Power
, the group received Grammys for their albums Live & Direct in 1978 and Changing Times the following year.
Although they increasingly veered toward a heavy, dance-inspiring sound, Ligon and the Mighty Clouds of Joy returned to their earliest roots with the album Live in Charleston, recorded during a concert at the Abundance Tabernacle A.M.E. Zion Church in Charleston, SC, on June 7, 1996. During a subsequent interview, Ligon explained "We wanted to go back to our roots in the '60s, singing songs we were known for before the contemporary music came in."
A native of Troy, AL, Ligon was blessed with natural singing talent. Although shyness prevented him from singing in public, he sang constantly. Invited to join a vocal group formed by his cousins, he was persuaded by his mother to accept the invitation.
Traveling to California to visit an uncle, at the age of 14 Ligon remained in the city for a year. At his uncle's insistence, he agreed to enroll in the local high school. His ability to sing soon attracted the attention of other students, including Johnny Martin, Richard Wallace, and Elmo Franklin. Forming a vocal quartet, the four teenagers were taken under the wing of a neighbor who tutored them in the art of four-part harmonizing. The group's first break came when they caught the ear of a local gospel disc jockey, who agreed to produce several demo tapes. When the Peacock Record label heard these tapes, the group was quickly signed to a recording contract. Their first single, "Steal Away to Jesus," was recorded in 1960. The following year, the group recorded their debut album, Family Circle.
Ligon's fiery preaching, inspired by the radio broadcasts of Reverend C.L. Franklin, soon became a trademark of the Mighty Clouds of Joy's records.
The Mighty Clouds of Joy have gone through many personnel changes in their four-decade career, with Ligon the sole original member still with the group. In the past few years, Ligon has taken a more supportive singing role with lead vocals performed by ex-Gospel Keynotes vocalist Paul Beasley. ~ Craig Harris, Rovi